Willie Mays was Greater Than Mickey Mantle: Injuries Don’t Count

Yes, Mickey Mantle would have been better than Willie Mays had he been healthy, but he played most of his career with two bad knees. He wasn’t as great as Willie Mays.

Mantle had more raw power than Mays, but a healthy Mays had a longer career and had baseball instincts Mantle couldn’t match. Mays was a vastly superior fielder compared to Mantle.

Mays had well over 3,000 hits, had more doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases than Mickey. Willie batted .302 compared to Mickey’s .298.

Candlestick Park was not conducive to right-handed power hitters. The prevailing winds were from left field to right field, which hurt Mays.

Batting left-hand, Mickey, although not strictly a pull hitter, had Yankee Stadium’s friendly right field porch.

Mantle was faster, but Willie was a more daring base runner. Mays was one of rare players who could be judged by his statistics or by his intangibles.

Mays and Mantle brought an excitement to the game rarely seen before and almost never seen today. The sight of Willie running from under his cap still haunts old-time Brooklyn Dodgers’ fan, just as Mickey’s tremendous power plagued opposing pitchers.

Some Brooklyn fans remember Willie’s greatest defensive play but still don’t believe it. No, it wasn’t against Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series.

The date was August 15, 1951. The New York Giants were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers at the Polo Grounds. The score was 1-1 in the top of the eighth inning.

With one out Billy Cox, a fairly fast runner at that point in his career, was on third for Brooklyn , while pitcher Ralph Branca was on first. There was only one out.

Carl Furillo, one of baseball’s most underrated players, was facing New York ‘s big right-hander, Jim Hearn.

The New York outfield was playing Furillo to pull, with left fielder Monte Irvin shaded toward the left field line, right fielder Don Mueller playing well off the line in right, and Willie Howard Mays Jr. almost in left center field.

Furillo hit a fly ball to right center field that everyone thought would be deep enough to score Cox with the lead run. Everyone was wrong.

Mays broke to his left and running at full speed, made the catch, a play that most good center fielders would make, but Mays had to run towards the right field foul line, so he was moving away from home plate.

If he stopped running to set for the throw home, there would be no chance to throw out Cox.

Mays didn’t break stride. He planted his left foot, made a complete whirling pivot on the dead run as if he were a discus thrower, and fired a guided missile home.

As the throw came flying toward the plate. First baseman Whitey Lockman, the cut off man, let it go through.

Catcher Wes Westrum caught the throw belt high and tagged out the incredulous Cox.

It was one of the greatest plays of all time. It wasn’t one of the greatest catches of all times. It was one of the greatest plays of all time.

Hundreds of outfielders could have caught the ball, but only Willie Mays could catch the ball and throw out the runner.

There have been hundreds of players who missed greatness due to injury. It is unfortunate, but durability is a major attribute when evaluating baseball’s best players.

Yes, Mickey Mantle probably had more grit than almost anyone who ever played the game. He was one of the all-time greats who had a magnificent career that was cut short by injuries.

Willie Mays had almost as much natural talent, but Mays had the one thing Mantle was missing. Mays had durability.

One could argue forever that Mantle could have been better than Mays, but the fact is that he was not.


Willie Mays’ Greatest Play